Colonoscopy: 'Gold Standard' in Cancer Screening

Frayne Meyerhoff was nervous about getting her scheduled colonoscopy, but the 59-year-old says she knew she didn't have a choice.

With a family history of colon cancer, Meyerhoff is at an increased risk for developing the disease, and she says she knows early detection could very well save her life.

"I think I'll be all right. If they find something, it's early enough to get it right out," Meyerhoff said on ABC News' "Good Morning America."

While nearly half of all Americans should be screened for colon cancer -- a disease that kills approximately 50,000 people each year, according to the National Institutes of Health -- most don't want to undergo the invasive, yet potentially life-saving, test.

During a colonoscopy, a thin tube is inserted into the rectum and goes through the colon while a small camera and light allow the doctor to view the entire colon and any abnormalities.

Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist at New York University Medical Center, says people often put their pride over their health when it comes to these screenings. In the end, Rajapaksa says their pride could cost them their life.

"If everyone over the age of 50 went and got a colonoscopy we really could prevent the vast majority of colon cancers from ever even developing," Rajapaksa said.

Rajapaksa says doctors can remove precancerous lesions during a colonoscopy. They can also remove abnormal growths known as polyps. "If we remove that, it has no chance of turning into cancer," he said.

Meyerhoff's brave decision to undergo the colonoscopy -- an hour-long procedure -- gave her the peace of mind she was hoping for. The test found no signs of cancer or polyps in her colon.

"This is a test that everyone deserves ... you need to have this done. It's not a frivolous option," Meyerhoff said.

Rajapaksa says he hopes other women will follow Meyerhoff's lead. He says they should go the extra mile to find a doctor they're comfortable with and get the potentially life-saving test.

Currently, Rajapaksa says there are more men undergoing colonoscopies than women.

ABC News' medical editor, Dr. Timothy Johnson, suggests patients in their 50s talk to their doctor about scheduling a colonoscopy.

While there are other colon cancer tests available, Johnson says the colonoscopy is the "gold standard" and that patients should push for it instead of opting for a less invasive, yet less reliable, basic stool test that looks for blood.

For more on colon cancer and colonoscopies, go to www.cancer.org

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